Archive for March 16th, 2010

by jhwygirl

A timely post, given that the corporate welfare 15 cent bid (or bids) for the Otter Creek coal tracts were announced late Monday.

Below are Attorney General Steve Bullock’s comments at the February hearing where the Land Board (in a 3-2 vote, with Bullock and Superintendent of the Office of Public Instruction Denise Juneau voting no) lowered the bid price from 25 cent/ton to 15 cent/ton, a 40% reduction.

Governor, my colleagues – this is certainly a decision that’s received its share of attention and I think that often the loss of the arguments both for and against – and it always doesn’t fit into a two-minute news story – are the requirements that the Constitution imposes upon us as Land Board members.

This isn’t a policy decision like a legislator can make for or against continued development of coal. And it’s not like the decision to sell off a piece of surplus property. Montana Supreme Court has said that we have a duty to the public that goes beyond that of the ordinary business man. The courts have also said that the Land Board must get full market value – the largest measure of legitimate advantage – for any property that we lease or sell.

When I voted in December to lease Otter Creek I said that I’ll support the project if it’s done right…and doing it in a manner consistent with our Constitutional duties carries with it in my mind at least three considerations: First, the coal must be leased and developed in a way that follows our environmental laws and includes continued oversight by this board. Second, the lease must maximize the benefit to the trust as the Constitution requires, and third – that Montana taxpayers shouldn’t be footing the bill for a railroad that benefits coal and power companies.

I don’t believe that lowering the bid price to 15 cents per ton or monkeying with royalty payments fulfills that obligation to maximize the benefit to the state treasury. And I think it’s easy to think that all we’re talking about today when we’re talking about the difference between 25 cents and 15 cents per ton for a bonus bid is one thin dime.

The drop in our bonus bid of 10 cents will cost the state $57 million. That’s $57 million dollars.

This 10 cent reduction will cost the treasury about the amount generated by every timber sale this board approved over the last 5 years.

Even in these tough times, Montana’s budget is in a stronger position than just about every other state because we’ve been fiscally conservative. Unloading the coal with a bonus bid that’s a fraction of what our neighbors are charging isn’t’ consistent with that fiscal responsibility that we’ve shown.

And it certainly, in my estimation, doesn’t meet the Constitutional obligations to maximize the amount of money we return to the state treasury.

And as the board is looking and considering to lower the bidder royalty to make this more attractive for the coal developers I don’t think that we can do that without acknowledging that we will be funding the Tongue River Railroad. I’ve said since the beginning that what I don’t want to see is Montana taxpayers footing the bill for a railroad to get coal and energy companies a windfall. And I’ve also said that were the railroad in place I think everyone would agree that we’d be getting more for this lease than what Arch has so-far signaled that it is willing to pay.

I’ve asked rail economists to independently analyze this..and provided that to the Board and they concluded that the Wyoming-originated coal will save $2.83/ton in shipping costs if this railroad is completed.

While we’re debating whether to reduce our bonus bid by another 10 cents a ton, Wyoming shippers will be getting a discount of 28 times that if the railroad is completed. And while we’re talking about reducing the amount to our treasury by $57 million, this review shows that a railroad in the Tongue River can save existing coal mines and power companies potentially well over $100 million each and every year.

I just don’t think that in these tough economic times Montana taxpayers should be asked to effectively be bailing out multi-national coal and energy companies. That’s not the state’s role.

Now – there will be a time when this project makes sense and I think there will be a bidder that will be willing to pay full market value for the right to develop this resource. And as members of the Land Board that at that time we do have a Constitutional obligation to lease that land. Until then, I don’t think that we need to have a fire sale. I will be voting against the motion to reduce the bonus bid from 25 to 15 cents.

After which the room broke out in applause.

Bullock’s decision was not easy. It showed. Saying the things he said contradicts much of what the proponents of the leases (on both sides of the table) had said.

Doing the right thing should not be so hard. Insider politics makes doing the right thing hard. I hope Bullock has seen the support that has stuck to him his decision to do the right thing.

I know I will remember. Thank you Denise – Thank you Steve.

by Pete Talbot

This is cool.

An email/press release from my Buddhist friend Simone Ellis: the Dalai Lama will be visiting Western Montana. The Garden of 1000 Buddhas in Arlee seems to be the main draw for His Holiness.

I don’t have a specific date but a press conference is being held Friday, so I guess that’s when we’ll get the details.

Now, I’m not a strict Buddhist. I’m not a strict anything. But to me, this is bigger than a visit from the pope. Here’s what the news release says:

Everyone knows who the Dalai Lama is, but for the record, he is the 14th Dalai Lama, and the first to travel extensively outside of Tibet. Born Tenzin Gyatso, in 1935, recognized as the next Dalai Lama at an early age, he is both the head of state and the spiritual leader of the Tibetan government in exile, seated in Dharamsala, India, where he has lived since having to flee his homeland in 1959. He won the Nobel Peace prize in 1989, and is the author of dozens of books.

Also from the news release:

WHO: Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche, spiritual head of Ewam International, and the founder of the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas, announcing the pending visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

WHERE: Inner Harmony Yoga Studio, 214 East Main Street, entrance in the alleyway north of the Union Club. Parking on Main or on side streets to Broadway.

WHEN: 1-2 PM Friday March 19, 2010.

We’ll keep you posted.

(Update: Joe Nickell has the skinny, here. Looks like a fall arrival for the Dalai Lama — if the Garden of 1000 Buddhas is completed, that is.)

(Update #2: No disrespect but I think this might be a premature announcement. One million dollars needs to be raised, thousands of stupas, reliquaries, nimbuses and gabyuls [thanks, Joe Nickell, for making me drag out a dictionary] need to be built, there’s no firm date but Fall 2011 is being discussed — lots of maybes here.)




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